As a mother, I feel intimidated by the list of conversations that I will need to have with my daughter in the coming few years. But certainly stalling them because they make me feel awkward is not an option now. For centuries mothers have refrained from discussing a lot of issues with their daughters because no one around them told them how important they were. Or because no one encouraged them to overcome the stigmas and reservations they held close to their heart because of an orthodox upbringing.
However, times have changed. We are now aware of how important it is to break social taboos to better prepare our children for life. Our daughters will have a much easier life if they walk into the world armed with the knowledge that we can provide on basis of experience. We can help our daughters be more confident, happy and assertive if we overcome our inhibitions and talk to them on taboo subjects, that make us uncomfortable. So here are five conversations between mothers and daughters that need an upgrade.
Cover your breasts: If you do not come from a family where you are ordered to wear a dupatta for all of your waking hours once your breasts start developing, then you may have been told atleast once to hide your bra strap in your house. Breast policing is not uncommon in India, and girls and women not only face it in the outside world from random strangers but from their own family within their homes. Including our moms, grandmothers and other female relatives.
Breasts are a natural part of our body and no girl should feel conscious or embarrassed about her body while growing up. She doesn’t need to cover her chest with a dupatta or hide her bra strap. If anything needs to change, then it is the male gaze that objectifies a woman’s body.
Moms need to stop telling their daughters to cover their breasts, instead help them deal with the embarrassment that comes from having a developing body, and motivate them to love themselves.
Period talk should not be just about its management: What was the conversation like between you and your mom when you got your first period? Did she tell you why this was happening, and how to was going to change your life forever? Or did she just teach you how to use a pad and properly dispose it off, without coming into the radar of any other family member? Was period talk more about don’t the touch the pickle and less about why it is okay to rest if you are experiencing severe cramps? You were not alone.
We can understand that it must have not been easy for mothers then, to talk about periods to their daughters, because no one did that for them, and they just didn’t know how to go about the subject. But moms today have better access to information, which can be used to educate daughters about menstruation properly and prepare them for what is to come. Period talk has to be more than just how to use and throw a pad.
Let us talk to our daughters about hormonal changes, period cramps, irregular periods, and why they need to go see a gynaecologist if their periods are not on track. Tell them that periods don’t make them “dirty” or polluted”, but just a grown-up girl.
Sex and sexuality: Sex remains one of the biggest taboos in our society. Women do not even discuss sex amongst themselves, how are then they to scrutinise their understanding of sexual crimes, consent and sexual orientation, and that of others?
Just like we explain good touch and bad touch to our children today, us mothers should talk to our daughters, and even sons, about all aspects of sex. “Don’t talk to boys”, “Don’t stay out till late”, “Don’t wear that skirt”, this is policing, and not the “birds and bees” chat that your daughter needs. She deserves more. She needs to know how does a woman get pregnant. She needs to know that no one has the right to touch her without her consent, not even her husband. She also needs to know that sexual desires shouldn’t make her feel guilty or dirty, and that there is a broad spectrum of sexuality apart from the heteronormative one that our society approves of (despite decriminalising homosexuality), all of which is “normal”.
Work-life balance: It is sad that even in this day and age, parents advise their daughters to prioritise family life over professional ambition. Why is parenting still a woman’s duty? Why must women be responsible for household chores solely? If it takes two to make a marriage and a baby, then why shouldn’t the responsibilities around the two be equally divided too?
But women can only claim equality at home when they are confident that their demands are not unfair. Unless women learn to overcome the guilt caused by the struggle to maintain work-life balance, they will always have to do backbreaking work to have a healthy family life and career. Not just as mothers, but as women, moms need to help their daughters realise that there is nothing wrong in being ambitious. What every woman deserves is a choice, and the power to decide what she wants to do with her life. And she deserves her family’s support in whatever she chooses to do.
Financial Independence: Are women bad with money? No, they simply don’t have the experience or confidence to manage it because for generations they have been kept away from conversations around finances.
Moms can change this by talking to their daughters about money. This is not just about earning your own paycheck, mind you, this is also about managing your own money, instead of letting one’s husband, brother or father take control it. There is no better way to empower a daughter than to make her feel confident in her ability to earn and invest her money. There are many reasons to have men in your life, financial dependency shouldn’t be one of them.
The views expressed are the author’s own.